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India city of Srinagar in Kashmir shut down for PM Modi's visit

The Indian city of Srinagar has been turned into a virtual fortress for the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Authorities have banned protests from separatist groups during his visit.

The main city in Indian Kashmir was placed in security lockdown on Saturday for the arrival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi amid a renewed crackdown on separatist activists.

Heavy security was ordered to prevent protests against his visit from those who favor independence or a merger of the far-northern Indian state with Pakistan.

Local media reported that the streets were deserted except for government troops in riot gear carrying automatic weapons.

Sharpshooters were deployed on top of high rise buildings within a three kilometer radius of the venue of Modi's visit which had been off limits to the public for three days.

Separatists had planned a rally Saturday near the site but his address passed without any major interference and protesters were dispersed by the army before he arrived in the city. Several separatist leaders were placed under house arrest or taken into preventive detention in advance of the visit.

Thousands of people - most of them party workers and supporters of the state's People's Democratic Party - were bussed into the venue under tight security.

Still suffering

Modi's visit comes a year after after the worst flooding in more than a century destroyed half a million homes in Jammu and Kashmir, as well as nearby regions of Pakistan.

In his speech, Modi said he wanted to go beyond helping flood victims. He promised to create jobs for Kashmiri youth by improving education and promoting industries, including tourism and cashmere wool.

"I want to build a new Kashmir, a powerful Kashmir," he said, lauding an 11 billion euro ($12 billion) economic package which he said would change the fate of the state.

After addressing the public rally here, Modi was due to inaugurate a 450 megawatt Baglihar Phase II power project outside the city.

He was also scheduled to lay the foundation stone for the widening of a key highway project which, once completed, will reduce the traveling time between Srinagar and Jammu - the twin capitals of the state - by nearly two hours.

The Muslim-majority state of Kashmir is divided between Hindu-dominated India and Muslim-majority Pakistan, with both claiming the entire territory.

India accuses Pakistan of backing the separatist militants. Pakistan says it only offers diplomatic support to Kashmir's Muslim communities.

mm/jm (AFP, AP, PTI, Reuters)

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